Monday, March 14, 2016

Imams and Other Muslims Visit Israel

Rather than isolation, as some in the media would have the world believe, more and more representatives of more and more countries are visiting or making contact with Israel.

Many countries are waking up to the fact that they need to seek help and Israel can do just that.

Another example of this is the arrival of Imams and other Muslim religious leaders from a number of central African states in Israel on Sunday for a four-day visit (13-17 March 2016). The visit was arranged by the Africa Division and the World Jewish and Interreligious Affairs Bureau of the Israel Foreign Ministry, in conjunction with the American Jewish Committee. The visit aims to familiarize the visitors with socio-political aspects of Israel; to generate an interreligious, intercultural dialogue; and to explore possibilities for economic and agricultural development cooperation.

The delegation is comprised of senior religious leaders and imams from six African states spread throughout the continent, which gives the visit high strategic importance with regional implications and media impact beyond the states represented by the delegates. In most cases, the Muslim religious leaders serve also as community leaders and have broad political influence; their visit will contribute to strengthening the diplomatic ties between Israel and Africa.

The agenda for the visit includes meetings with senior officials; diplomatic and strategic briefings at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; meetings at the Knesset; meetings between the imams and the chief rabbis on the subject of coexistence; a visit to the holy sites of the three religions, including Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem; and tours of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Haifa and Acre - cities that serve as models for interreligious coexistence in Israel.

At the present time, when African states are confronting threats from Islamic jihadist terrorism, we attach prime importance to meetings with moderate Muslim religious leaders. These meetings could serve as a stabilizing factor and boost Israel's connection to these sectors of African society.


The delegation numbers nine leading Muslim religious figures from South Sudan, Zambia, Cameroon, Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia. Interreligious dialogue holds a central place on Israel's diplomatic agenda in Africa. Israel's ambassadors to Africa are involved in activities to strengthen ties with the Muslim community, such as donating sheep for the Eid al-Adha holiday, engaging in interreligious dialogues, and more.

Delegations of Senegalese imams and senior clergy visited Israel several years ago (2013 and 2014). The visits were very successful, showing the visitors different aspects of Israeli life and Jewish-Arab coexistence. The visitors returned to their country with high motivation to strengthen diplomatic ties with Israel and improve Israel's public image through the media and academia. Long after the delegation returned, the media continued to portray Israel as a multifaceted and open society.

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